When the Boston Bruins returned from the 2004-05 NHL lockout, there wasn’t much reason to be optimistic. The club had added veteran star Brian Leetch via free agency, but lost a ton of firepower at both ends of the ice. Michael Nylander, Sergei Gonchar, Mike Knuble, Brian Rolston and Sean O’Donnell all left via free agency. That left the Bruins with a lack of depth.
It didn’t help matters that GM Mike O’Connell traded his best player, Joe Thornton, before the calendar flipped to December. Thornton was dealt on November 30th to the San Jose Sharks. In exchange, the Bruins acquired Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart. Sergei Samsonov, their other veteran star forward, was flipped to the Edmonton Oilers at the trade deadline.
The Bruins did have a good young core of players developing in the system. Patrice Bergeron broke out in his second full season, scoring 31 goals and finishing with 72 points. David Krejci, the club’s second-round choice in 2004, was destroying the QMJHL with the Gatineau Olympiques. He finished with 81 points (27 g, 54 a) in 55 games. He showed he was ready to jump to professional hockey.
Mark Stuart and Matt Hunwick, who both played on the 2010-11 team, were also developing for the Bruins that season. Stuart played his first 17 NHL games with the Bruins, while Hunwick was a junior at Michigan.
The biggest storyline at the NHL level in 2005-06 was Tim Thomas’ emergence. Andrew Raycroft, the incumbent starter, suffered multiple injuries and never quite got back to form. Raycroft won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year in 2004. He finished the 2003-04 season with a 29-18-9 record and a .926 save percentage. In 2005-06, Raycroft managed to play just 30 games.
He struggled in those games, going 8-19-2 with an .879 save percentage.
Hannu Toivonen, Raycroft’s backup, also dealt with injury problems. Toivonen played in only 20 games that season, registering a .914 save percentage and 9-5-4 record. With those two on the shelf, it was Thomas who got the nod.
Prior to the 2005-06 season, Thomas was a complete afterthought. Thomas had played four games for the Bruins in 2003-04, but for all intents and purposes he was a minor league employee. After all, Thomas had bounced around the minors and Europe since 1997. There was no reason to think anything of him coming into the season.
Thomas, thanks to the injuries, was thrust into the starting job. He performed quite well. In front of a poor team, Thomas posted a 12-13-10 record and a .917 save percentage in 38 games. Not spectacular, but solid numbers. That earned him an extension. It also earned him the starting job heading into the 2006-07 season.
On top of that, it gave the Bruins the ability to move on from Raycroft. That turned out to be a very important footnote in history.
Samsonov Returns Major Piece
The Bruins elected to go all-in on a retool at the trade deadline. They hooked up with the Oilers on a trade to send Samsonov to Alberta in exchange for a 2006 second-round pick and veteran Marty Reasoner. Reasoner, who played his college hockey at Boston College, would leave as a free agent in the summer of 2006. He re-signed with the Oilers.
This trade is the rare one that benefited everyone. Samsonov enjoyed success in Edmonton, playing a key role for a contending team. He helped lead the Oilers to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, which they ultimately lost to the Carolina Hurricanes. Along the way, Samsonov knocked out old friend Joe Thornton and the Sharks in six games in the second round.
The Bruins, meanwhile, cashed in on that second round pick. The club selected power forward Milan Lucic from the WHL’s Vancouver Giants. Lucic was coming off a pedestrian season, scoring just 19 points (9 g, 10 a) in 62 junior games. The pick didn’t garner a lot of fanfare at the time. It would turn out to be a key moment for the franchise.
Chiarelli Comes Aboard
Mike O’Connell did not finish the 2005-06 season with the Bruins. He was let go by the club on March 25th, a Saturday morning. Jeff Gorton, his assistant GM, was named the interim GM. Normally just a formality, Gorton would end up playing a big role for the Bruins moving forward.
The club, led by President Harry Sinden, began their search for a new General Manager. It took them two months, but the club settled on Harvard graduate Peter Chiarelli. Chiarelli previously served as the assistant GM of the Ottawa Senators for two seasons.
Chiarelli, however, could not join the Bruins until later in the summer. The Senators were leery of letting him head to a division rival before the draft and free agency. So, while the club could name Chiarelli GM, he couldn’t take over officially until later in the summer.
That meant Gorton, in name, would run both the draft and free agency.
Gorton Strikes Gold At Draft
The 2006 Entry Draft took place in Vancouver, fittingly enough. The Bruins selected fifth overall, and used the pick on Minnesota (NCAA) sniper Phil Kessel. With a shiny new offensive toy in their possession, the Bruins got to work on a masterful weekend.
Gorton made a pair of trades that changed the Bruins franchise. First, he dealt Raycroft to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for the rights to Tuukka Rask. Raycroft would head to Toronto to be their starter, while the Bruins got what they hoped was their goalie of the future.
Later that draft weekend, the Bruins made a small deal with the New York Islanders. They flipped the 98th and 126th overall picks in 2006 for the 71st overall pick. That small deal led to the selection of a small forward out of the QMJHL. His name? Brad Marchand.
Gorton would walk away from the weekend with Kessel, Lucic and Marchand drafted and Rask acquired. It was a dream weekend for the interim GM, one that set the Bruins up for at least a decade.
Little did Boston know, the fireworks were just getting started.